George Cukor (July 7, 1899 – January 24, 1983) was an American film director.
He was born George Dewey Cukor in New York City to Hungarian parents, Victor F. and Helen (Gross) Cukor. (His name means sugar in Hungarian.) As a teenager, he was infatuated with theater and often cut classes to attend afternoon matinees. Following his graduation from De Witt Clinton High School in 1916, he spent a year with the Students Army Training Corps. He then obtained a job as an assistant stage manager for a Chicago theater company. After gaining three years of experience, he formed his own stock company in Rochester, New York in 1920, and worked there for seven years. He then returned to Broadway where he worked with such formidable actresses as Ethel Barrymore and Jeanne Eagles.
When Hollywood began to recruit New York theater talent for sound films, Cukor answered their call and moved there in 1929. His first job was as a dialog director at Paramount Pictures for the film River of Romance (1929), followed by All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). He then co-directed three films before making his solo debut directing Tallulah Bankhead in Tarnished Lady (1931). Cukor left Paramount after a legal dispute resulting from his dismissal from an earlier film (One Hour With You) and went to work with David O. Selznick at RKO Studios.
Cukor's career flourished at RKO where he directed a string of impressive films including What Price Hollywood (1932), A Bill of Divorcement (1933), Dinner at Eight (1933), Little Women (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936), and Camille (1937).
By this time, Cukor had established a reputation as a director who could coax great performances from actresses and he began known as a "woman's director," a title which he resented. One of Cukor's first ingenues was actress Katharine Hepburn, whose looks and personality left RKO officials at a loss as to how to use her. Cukor ended up directing her in her most successful films and they became close friends off the set.
Cukor was hired to direct Gone with the Wind by David O. Selznick in 1937 and he spent one year with pre-production duties as well as spending long hours coaching Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland, the film's stars. Cukor was soon fired from the film, however, with rumors ranging from Clark Gable being uncomfortalbe with Cukor's homosexuality to Cukor quitting the film himself because of numerous production delays. Whatever the reason, Cukor continued to coach Leigh and De Havilland off the set.
Following the Gone with the Wind debacle, Cukor directed The Women (1939), a popular film notable for its all female cast and The Philadelphia Story (1940) starring Katharine Hepburn. He also directed another of his favorite actresses, Greta Garbo, in Two Faced Woman (1941) before she retired from the screen.
The 1940s was a decade of hits and misses for Cukor. He was off track with Two Faced Woman as well as Her Cardboard Lover (1942) starring Norma Shearer. However, he did achieve more success with films such as A Woman's Face (1941) with Joan Crawford, Gaslight (1944) with Ingrid Bergman and Adam's Rib (1949) with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
Cukor's reputation as an actor's director continued as he helped several actors win Academy Awards. Ronald Colman won a Best Actor Oscar for A Double Life (1947) and Judy Holliday won for Best Actress in 1950 for Born Yesterday. In 1954, Cukor made his first film in color, A Star is Born which featured an impressive come-back performance by Judy Garland. A decade later, Cukor won an Academy Award himself, for Best Director, for My Fair Lady (1964).
He continued to work into his 80s and directed his last film, Rich and Famous, in 1981.
Cukor was well known in his personal life as a man of great taste and refinement. During the heyday of Hollywood, his celebrated home was the sight of weekly Sunday parties and his guests knew that they would always find interesting company, good food and a beautiful atmosphere when they visited. Cukor's friends were of paramount importance to him and he kept his home filled with their photographs. Regular attendees at his soirees included Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. , Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Richard Cromwell, Noel Coward, Cole Porter, James Whale, Edith Head, and Norma Shearer, especially after the death of her first husband, Irving Thalberg. Cukor, who was gay, did not come out as a spokesman for gay rights but worked behind the scenes to fight homophobia in Hollywood.
George Cukor died 1983 at the age of 83. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
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